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Psychology is not an esoteric art involving mind-reading, as most would assume – clarifies forensic psychologist, Meghana Srivatsa. She explains how she got into the field and how her work took her from the criminal world to the corporate world (yes, there is a difference between the two!). She also talks about the qualifications needed to get psychology jobs in India and has some tips on whether it would be the right career option for you.
Can you tell us about your background?
Not all of us are born with a hawk-eye focus on what we want to do with our professional lives. I was a champion at lacking focus back in the day.
Let me explain: I took Science (Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Biology) in my 11-12th thinking that would keep all options open for later. I finished my 12th still not knowing what to do with my life when my brother came to my rescue and helped me decide that media studies would be a good choice for me.
What did you study? How did you end up in an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career such as Psychology?
While most people around me decided that I chose Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, Psychology and English Literature at Christ University in Bangalore because I couldn’t get into a good course in Engineering or Medicine (neither of which I was interested in or even applied to), the triple major was again a great option for me (as I was still not convinced about pursuing a journalistic career).
I found Psychology to be very interesting. While criminals always caught my fancies, I wanted to know if I could pursue a career in psychology with a legal / crime aspect to go with it.
I found out in 2008 when I still had a year to graduate from my BA that there was a course in Forensic Psychology in Gujarat Forensic Sciences University (back then that was the only university offering the course, there are many more across the country that offer degrees now at higher levels in the subject) that would require me to have a Masters in Clinical Psychology to be eligible to apply.
And that is what I did next. I completed my Masters in Clinical Psychology in 2011 in Bangalore University affiliated Montfort College and then got through Gujarat for the Post Graduate Diploma in Forensic Psychology after an entrance exam.
This was a great course in terms of practical exposure. I got an opportunity to work in the prison as a Rehabilitation Psychologist and also assist with Polygraph, Brain Mapping and Narco analysis cases in the Forensic Science Lab while at it. This got me deeply involved in the field and I finally knew that this was what I would like to wake up to every morning. This was what I wanted to call work.
What is a typical day in the life of a Forensic Psychologist?
I used to wake up to an adventure filled day every morning when I would go to the prison and talk to the convicts. I was talking to individuals convicted in all sorts of heinous crime- murder, rape, narcotics, arson, theft, you name it.
What amazed me the most was me softening towards these individuals as days went by. I realized how I wanted to help them resolve their issues and have a better existence when they went out of prison.
I had convicts talking to me in detail about how they carried out their crimes; some even took pride in their explanations while some showed remorse.
But most of them just wanted to talk to me because they were happy to get off their routine (of working in the bakery, carpentry, book binding, chemist shop; all within the prison enclosure).
I particularly remember two of the convicts: One was an older man, a doctor and a very well read, smart individual who was convicted in a sexual harassment case (not that smart, apparently). He realized he was going to be in the prison for a long time and decided to study while at it.
The prison offered distance education courses to the convicts and they could enroll for classes and write their exams and earn their degree. This man had managed to earn himself 18 different degrees (various Masters courses, certificate courses and Diplomas)!
The other convict that I vividly remember was convicted in a gang-rape case (a Chemistry professor along with 4 other professors of other departments) who was getting out of prison soon and managed to ask me if I would meet him outside in Ahmedabad (where I lived then) for coffee!
In case you are curious, I politely refused and told him that this would be a professional relationship and I would be unable to oblige to his request.
I finished the PG Diploma in 2012 and then worked in a brain research laboratory as a psychologist researching EEG, ERP and neuropsychological aspects of criminal behavior.
Since professions within forensic science lab or the CBI were government posts, the procedures were not well established and I decided to go where the wave takes me and continued with the brain research lab and teaching Forensic Psychology as a certificate course in Christ University in Bangalore for both UG and PG students.
I then hit burnout and decided to try my hand with psychometric assessments.
How is a Psychologist’s job in the corporate world?
I then worked in the Research and Development department of a Paris based psychometric assessment company that allowed me to develop personality, aptitude and other work related assessments that were used in the corporate organization development sector.
This gave me a chance to conduct trainings for VPs, Managers, team leaders and other employees on development of various behavioural and life skills.
I was simultaneously conducting therapy and counselling on an online mental health portal based in Bangalore in the backdrop. So I felt like a jack of a lot of psychological trades for a while.
Getting a PhD in Psychology?
I then decided to hone my professional skills by adding a PhD to it. But this time, I decided to explore untested waters and getting out of India to pursue my doctoral studies.
After endless emails to expert professors in this field in various universities across the UK, Canada, Australia and EU, I got into a very specialized PhD in Legal Psychology where I am researching on developing interrogation techniques to aid criminal investigations.
I got into The House of Legal Psychology as an Erasmus Mundus scholar which is a fully funded three year joint doctorate degree comprising of experts collaborating from three universities namely University of Gothenburg, Sweden (my home university), University of Portsmouth, UK (my partner university) and Maastricht University, Netherlands.
The unique degree offers me with the opportunity to travel to these universities and get the best of it from the experts in the field. I should complete this by 2019 and then intend to work with investigative agencies across geographies that requires my expertise.
Psychology careers in India – How to get in
Mental health has always been sidelined by people as unimportant but the present world has understood its importance and hence, Psychology as a career has a bright future. It is sad but true that the generations are seeing so much development across the globe but that price to pay is mental health.
Irrespective of what path one chooses within Psychology, each has its significance. As far as legal / criminal / forensic psychology goes, it is a field that is growing at a tremendous pace, thanks to the increase in the atrocities around us.
Requirements and qualifications to be a good psychologist
As a Psychologist, it is very important for an individual to possess patience, empathy, positive attitude and good coping mechanisms. A psychology graduate can choose his/her specializations in Clinical, Counselling, Industrial/Organizational Development, Forensic/Legal, Sports, etc.
Most basic prerequisite to be able to work as a psychologist would be a Master’s degree (if it is non-clinical related) or a MPhil / PhD for any other specializations. Academia requires a PhD. Pay depends on the field, position, qualifications and the geography.
It should be kept in mind that since Psychology as an overall field is human-centric, finding work in geographies other than your own not only requires licensing requirements but also knowledge of local language and cultural familiarity.
A typical forensic psychologist in India would work in the Forensic Psychology Department at a forensic science laboratory, the Central Bureau of Investigation, National Investigative Agency, and the likes.
However, the job role would require high skill sets, some amount of influential contacts, high tolerance levels, stress management skills, courage and conviction. But the contribution you can make to assist national security is very fulfilling and gratifying.
Is Psychology the right career for me?
If you believe that you can read someone’s mind if you become a psychologist, I am sorry to disappoint you. If you want a job that is an easy 9-5 with no stress, this isn’t it.
But if you believe that you are passionate about this field and are open to experiences, understanding human behavior and would like to contribute to the development of the human species, then this would be a good option.